Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

Jacobitism and the Historian: Some Neglected Sources on the Jacobite Insurrections of 1715 and 1745

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

Jacobitism and the Historian: Some Neglected Sources on the Jacobite Insurrections of 1715 and 1745

Article excerpt

From the Revolution of 1688 to the defeat of the Jacobite army at Culloden, Jacobitism was a divisive issue in British politics--the notion of an alternative monarch across the channel viewed as legitimate by at least part of the political nation. Spatially, pro-Stuart activism also represented an attempt to challenge developed and strengthening patterns of control of Ireland by England, of Scotland by England, of Northern Scotland by the Presbyterians of the Central Lowlands, of Northern England by the South and, indeed, of the whole of Britain by its most populous, wealthy and advanced region: southeastern England. (2) As such, the phenomenon was no mere "dynastic squabble" but was viewed by contemporaries as a critical military, political and religious threat to the Hanoverian Establishment. (3)

Elusively complex, ever aiming at a diversity of ends, Jacobitism has, not surprisingly, engendered a concomitantly tangled historiography--one that by extension highlights and illuminates the often contentious phenomenon known as "Britishness." (4) In the process it has also provided a deeper sense of why historians of the Stuart and Hanoverian period, both collectively and individually, perceive the past in distinctive ways and how the themes of key debates have progressed and changed over time: (5) a potent reminder of the myriad connectives, perennially operative, between historical writing and socio-political currents.

Nostalgic zealots aside, contemporary observers, English as well as Scottish, tended to adopt viewpoints ranging from qualified endorsement of Jacobite aims to pronounced skepticism about the scope of secessionist sentiment nationwide, resulting in a "watch and wait attitude." (6) This explains why even latent sympathy for the Pretender's cause did not necessarily translate into ready commitment, military or financial.

During the nineteenth century, mainstream scholars--embedded in the teleological, progressivist mores of their time--had little but contempt for Jacobitism (including its Irish nationalist dimensions), a movement so obviously at variance with the seemingly inexorable destiny of the British state: continuous progress, imperial hegemony, constitutional governance, and Anglican orthodoxy. (7)

Despite the intermittent appearance of countervailing views, (8) this dismissive trend persisted (if in more moderate form) until the 1980s (9) where the participants of the '45 were typically dismissed as "Highland rabble." Reflected here is partly a waning historical interest in Jacobitism after 1945 (10) and partly, as J.C.D. Clark put it, the fact that "... it fails to fit within the prevailing academic orthodoxy" of the "long 18th century." (11)

Revived interest in the Jacobite movement can be traced to the 1970s, when it was launched, ironically, by a Namierite enterprise. Romney Sedgwick's volume on The House of Commons, 1715-1754, in the History of Parliament contained an introduction by Evelyn Cruickshanks arguing for the demonstrable survival of the Tory party following Queen Anne's death, its vibrant role as a crucible of Jacobite militancy, (12) and an active resolve to restore the Stuarts through rebellion with assistance from European states. Comprising what might be called the "Maximalist case," Cruickshanks' position was (and in certain aspects remains) controversial, though she did spearhead a resurgence of Jacobite research on cultural, social, religious, literary, as well as domestic political themes, in Political Untouchables (1975) and four subsequently edited or co-edited volumes. (13) The persistence of a Tory party after 1714 has not been effectively disputed; though in a highly influential work, In Defiance of Oligarchy (1982), Dr. Linda Colley has seriously questioned any close link between Tories and diehard Jacobite insurgency. (14) On the other hand, Daniel Szechi has acknowledged the presence of Jacobite elements within Tory ranks, but remained less optimistic than Cruickshanks (and others) (15) about their chances of success. …

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